Janeen’s top tip for aspiring authors: Get your heart involved in your writing. That is, write honestly with genuine emotional sincerity. Even if it’s a commissioned work, a piece of work you haven’t personally chosen, I still think you can find something in the research or the writing of it you can relate to. Something that sparks your interest, so your writing isn’t wooden.
Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and poet with over 100 books published in both trade and educational publishing. She enjoys writing picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and non-fiction.
Many of her books have been translated and distributed worldwide while more than 200 stories, poems, plays and articles have been published in children’s magazines or anthologies.
Janeen was the recipient of the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature Carclew Fellowship and in 2009 also received a May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship. Janeen is an Ambassador for Raising Literacy Australia (The Little Big Book Club.)
She loves reading, creating mosaics, aqua-aerobics, Yoga, walking, gardening, travelling, craft work, singing, watching theatre and films and spending time with her family and friends.
She lives in the seaside city of Glenelg, in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. She has two daughters and four grandchildren.
To find out more, visit her website and Facebook page.
Why do you write? I think of words as seeds. Each holds power and beauty and can be arranged in a million different ways to bring about a million different outcomes. I love taking disparate words and making connections. I love using my life’s experiences for something other than memories. For me, writing equates to creativity. And creativity is my soul driver.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I was a primary teacher for many years. And a not-so-good actor in a children’s theatre company for a few years! I loved my teaching years but left in 1990 to write full-time and now, I’m not sure I’d return to that career. Perhaps I’d work part-time in Early Childhood centres. And I’d spend the rest of my time creating saleable mosaics from recycled materials – something I’ve been doing for over twenty years.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Because I’m disciplined and have a reasonably strong work ethic, I love being able to work from home.
What’s the worst aspect of your writing life? When I think I’ve conquered a particular structural humbug, only to see it rear its annoying head again in another piece of work.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To clarify, I never had an ambition to become a writer. I still sometimes find it a surprise that I am one. One writing colleague described it as being an accidental author. However, from age eight, I was set on becoming a teacher. But when, in my thirties, I began to write and later, to become published, I wished I’d been told you had to make TROUBLE in your writing. That CONFLICT was the cannon you fired to action the story.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Ignorance of story. Ignorance of books. I felt this perhaps because my childhood and school life was almost bare of reading material.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I was pretty much a self-taught author. Being a self-starter, I sought out books on how to write, from the library. Much later, there were writing prompts available online, which I ploughed through, and a ‘distant education course’ which I took, sending off work in envelopes. But today, I’d start out by studying the wonderful writing courses that are available both online, in universities and other institutions.
You’ve seen many changes during your writing life. How important is it to be adaptable as an author? What are the key attributes a writer needs for a long-term career in this unpredictable career? I delve deeply and often into my particular ethos of If it’s to be, it’s up to me. Ultimately, it’s you who has to overcome hurdles and do the work. But sometimes, when even that’s not enough, having like-minded friends and colleagues to buoy you up through those tough times, is invaluable. Also, reaching out into other areas of the arts is helpful and enjoyable. If you don’t want to sink, you learn to be adaptable in your own way. But, to stay afloat, you need persistence by the truckload. And an understanding that whatever you write can ALWAYS be improved, by revision, learning and practice.
You write picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and no-fiction. Do you have a preference? I love the crispness of picture books and poetry. I love to create words that sound perfect and hopefully, also provoke images in a reader’s or an illustrator’s mind. I so enjoy writing junior fiction and since I’ve now written three novels, I really like the expansion they offer as well. But I guess picture books and poetry nudge to the top of the line-up.
Are there any recurring themes to your writing? Succeeding by tapping into your own strength, intuition and creative problem solving would be one theme. So, in a word, resilience. Concern for the environment, another. Bringing history to life and also injecting humour into my writing whenever I can, would be others.
What was the inspiration behind your newest release, Eloise and the Bucket of Stars? It was the combination of two random images; one being memories of visiting old English orphanages. The other was reading the narrative behind medieval tapestries depicting the capture of a unicorn. The next step was to create a character who lived in an orphanage, who may or may not have been an orphan and to uncover her connection with a unicorn. And in so doing, create a story for mid-grade readers that entailed both mystery and magical realism. Talk about a challenge.
Is there any aspect of the writing craft that you still find challenging? Probably structure, particularly in longer pieces.
How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is good if you stick to those two words. Social, meaning you can visit and enjoy and share or gain information or knowledge from time to time. Media, meaning its very accessible. But beyond that, I’m wary, because it can drag you into passivity – when perhaps you should be writing.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t ever label those sticky times as such, because that tends to set the whole idea in concrete. Yes, I have times when ideas lay low, or the work is sluggish or dull, but now I have a better understanding of dealing with those occasions. Often, I’ll leave the work for a while. Or I might do a brainstorm or mind-map to see if that generates a breakthrough. But it’s usually a stepping away from the work, with or without a certain amount of grace, depending on my mood!
How do you deal with rejection? I still feel sad when it happens. And disappointed. And frustrated. And I’m not the most garrulous person to be around for a little while afterwards.
But it is a case of whether you still believe in the work or not. One case in point, was that my agent couldn’t get any publisher interested in a particular picture book of mine. In the end she returned it to me. I gave it time, rewrote it and sent it to a publisher whom I knew. It was not only published but won a Notable Award at the CBCA Awards.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Image-provoking, heart-felt, language-orientated.
If you had a chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? It would be Kate DiCamillo because she evokes such richness or emotion in her powerful stories. I’d like to know whether her beautiful, pared-down style of writing evolved through her own intuition, or whether it was partly intuitive and partly learning the craft.
Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the villages or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens . . .
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